Women hikers and campers are as common as men these days, or so it seems, but 100 years ago? My grandmother-in-law was one, a concept I could not imagine until I saw the evidence that didn’t fit my stereotype of Edith Banister Cordes — until someone dropped the notion in my lap. Ede, as she was known by her friends at the time, was the older sister of Jud Banister, the East Hampton Village mayor from 1936 to 1954.
That someone was Everett T. Rattray and the vehicle was his book “The South Fork: The Land and the People of Eastern Long Island,” the paperback version of 1989. One of many sources for our research on Banister, my wife, Carol’s, great-uncle, it carried a number of stories by Everett’s maternal grandmother, Florence Huntting Edwards. He dedicated the book to her for passing on the urge to story-tell. The stories he tells are wonderful and those about his grandmother contain the connective tissue to Carol’s family, as Ede first married Jeremiah Miller Huntting, Florence’s cousin.
When the “Oh my God” passage hit me, Florence’s character had been well set. She had a personality that Everett strongly admired, with good reason. He was relating an encounter with a new resident of the Hampton Waters subdivision near Springy Banks, an area historically important to the native Indians. He told about childhood family picnics on what he and many assumed was public land. He concluded by relating, “My grandmother had camped there with her friends in the early 1900s . . . a group of women in their late twenties with children already entering their teens, smoking cigarettes and digging clams and singing around fires in an attempt to regain the girlhoods abruptly ended when they had married a decade or so earlier at sixteen and seventeen.” As soon as I finished the sentence I knew I had seen pictures of these women.
Eleven photos of women camping, including annotations identifying Ede in most, were in Carol’s family documents. The young lady who went on to become principal of the Hamilton School in Mount Vernon, N.Y., who lived and loved the city life, was smiling and enjoying the company of her female companions on the west shore of Three Mile Harbor in the early 1900s. Carol never knew her as anything other than a city-loving lady who retained a great fondness for East Hampton, and yet she was in every camping photo.
Tents with taut guy ropes draped with swimming suits say, “This is camping.” So does cooking gear, a big wooden picnic table under a large shade tree overflowing with cups, plates, glasses, and, oh my, that looks like a wine flask, and a pie with just two slices left. Some pictures with husbands and bench swings set up reveal a little help from their friends. But photos of women in below-the-knee bathing suits in ankle-deep water, or climbing aboard for a boat ride, or doing a cheerleader pose for the camera with the harbor in the background, these reveal a camaraderie built from the bonds of camping.
A small dog with a black left eye patch belonged to one camper but loved them all. Full-length dresses, ties and hats, and really big hats were the dress code of the day if the women weren’t swimming or clamming. Six women — rarely a seventh or eighth, and sometimes one or two men — were in most photos. A studio picture taken at another time has eight camping club members smiling and posing for the photographer. Who were these women? We know Ede was one, Florence Edwards another, but the rest remain a mystery.
Ede, the only married teacher, began her final year at the Union School on Newtown Lane in September 1909, giving her time and attention, once again, to the sixth grade. She assigned grades to 42 pupils during the February 1910 reporting period. Students included Bennetts, Fields, Fithians, Goulds, Hunttings, Hedges, Kings, Lesters, Mulfords, Parsons, and Pharaohs among the longtime East Hampton families, and many newer but established names like Collum, Grimshaw, Loris, and Ross, names that played important roles in East Hampton’s history.
As the school year ended, the June 1910 federal census found Ede, her daughter, Beryle Huntting, and the entire Banister clan boarding at the Christian Schenck house on the corner of Main Street and Newtown Lane. The family included Jud, his wife, Harriet, his sister Stella, brother, Howard, mother, Lucy, and grandmother Wealthy Burrows. The 1910-11 East Hampton-Southampton Register’s September 1910 survey listed Jerry Huntting, Ede’s husband and Beryle’s father, as a clerk in New York City, no longer an East Hampton resident. By summer’s end, probably sooner, Ede had no husband and Beryle no father at home.
“The camping club, consisting of seven young women of East Hampton, returned yesterday from its annual week’s outing at Springy Banks. The ladies report that they enjoyed themselves immensely, crabbing, fishing, boating, and entertaining picnic parties of friends, and all have acquired a fine coat of tan and enormous appetites.” The Star’s final August 1910 edition closed the loop on Everett’s story, the 11 family pictures adding flesh to the paper’s description and spirit to the camping trip’s worth to the young women at that time in their lives.
A failed marriage, a very large family in one house, a new teaching job in New Jersey come fall, and leaving her only child and special friends behind was the emotional milieu Ede carried into her final trip with the camping club. A summer’s end trip with friends provided the ingredients to put a smile on Ede’s face in those photos. Everett’s reminiscence provided the context for the other women in the camping club images. Precious images to our family.
Steve Rideout comes to East Hampton a couple of times every off-season to research family history. He lives in Shutesbury, Mass.